For those who have policed, this phrase seems to be a persistent refrain. Nearly all of us can think of times when we were able to justifiably utilize deadly force, but for whatever reason we made the decision not to exercise that right.
In these times of greater transparency, with the urging of alternative expectations, increased speculation resembling “second guessing”, etc., I worry that the mode of reminiscing may move from that of tolerance to that of tragedy. Sure we had risks when we policed, but the frequency and intensity were never equal to the status of today’s interactions.
My concerns for my active colleagues can best be expressed by this question, “To what extent are you conditioned or conflicted before you conclude you or another are in a lethal crisis”? And even then, will you make the decision to utilized deadly force or have the decision made for you”?
Most research shows you’ll take more risks, emotionally express more reluctance, and extend the nature of the “last resort” further than ever before. That worries me as a former cop and now in the corps called “others”
As a retired officer, trainer, and college professor I am free of the dynamic nature and situational nuances of contemporary policing including politics, personalities, and perceptions. I fear that over time that title’s phrase will change from one of pride to one of lament. If we begin to hear, “I should have, but didn’t”, it’s too late. Officers and others will have already been injured or killed.
We weren’t just lucky or fortunate in the past, things were different then and the odds were generally on our side. Now the entire interactive process between the police and the policed has changed, thanks to our society’s misguided thinking about tolerance in an environment of terror.
Today’s peace officers are taught to de-escalate, soften their style, extend their deliberation, seek other alternatives, etc., as part of their decision-making process.
Policing has changed to a point of performance juxtaposition, where even the perpetrator’s feelings are factored into the evolving equation of enforcement. This “new math” is telling the police to feel for the offender, take more risks, place others and themselves in greater jeopardy, and enforce with greater overall empathy.
It’s happening in spite of the legal mandate of compliance by offenders, valid lessons of decades of research into officer deaths and injures, within a contemporary conditioning toward crisis. Without question, we are our own worst enemies!
My personal and professional perception is one of ambivalence. I understand the push for positive enforcement, but simultaneously remain hesitant to accept an obvious increase in the threats to officer safety being part of the price.
Perhaps author William Inge said it best, “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes true”.
I for one am not willing to accept a greater cost for yet an unproven prophecy!
Gregory J. Connor is a Professor (Emeritus) from the University of Illinois Police Training Institute. For more than four decades he provided both practical and tactical education and training to police officers and corrections personnel. Professor Connor has published numerous texts and articles on associated topics in the criminal justice field and is a recognized expert on such topics as use of force, contact controls, police pursuits, jail and police procedures and policies, etc. He continues to write and consult in these areas and is currently working on a project to update and re-introduce the classic “Officer Down . . . Code Three” text into policing.
He is the originator of the Use of Force Model and the recent Police and Jail Control Models designed and developed for peace officers throughout the country and additional graphic illustrations to enhance the training effort in areas including, use of force issues, stop and frisk dynamics, vehicle stops, and exigent operations for both police agencies and jails.